Changes at the Top at the Pensacola Fire Dept.
Matt Schmitt and Joe Glover are out as Pensacola Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief, respectively. They were fired Tuesday by Mayor Ashton Hayward after a three-month investigation of the department.
The Mayor’s action came after reviewing the 138-page report which he says outlines a number of instances that demonstrated what it terms as “a lack of judgment, poor leadership and contempt for the city’s Human Resources Department.
“You have input from your department heads, you know they were asking me to do an investigation of the fire department,” said Hayward. “So I said ‘If this is what everyone feels [then] let’s do it, let’s have a third party do it. Let’s make sure we’re covering everything.’ That’s exactly what we did. We got the report back and took out time reading it, got the input, and made the decision.”
The Pensacola law firm of Beggs and Lane conducted the investigation into the Fire Department. Among their findings: Schmitt and Glover deviated from procedure when hiring new firefighters, by failing to convene an interview panel. After which Schmitt presented conflicting information.
“Obviously, that’s one part of it,” the Mayor said. “The retaliation is one part of it. The overall totality of the report – the facts supported what we talked about, so it was easy to look at the report and take my time, but most importantly make the decision.”
The report also states that Schmitt and Glover unjustly retaliated against a lower-ranking firefighter by demoting him for filing a complaint against Glover, accusing the Deputy Chief of sending intimidating text messages to him and several other firefighters.
The two fire chiefs were suspended with pay in February. At that time, City Administrator Eric Olson confirmed it was in connection with complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Olson and human resources director Ed Sisson, said to have been filed by Glover.
“The city is notified, and the city’s insurance carrier is notified,” Olson said in February. “On the advice of counsel selected by our insurance carrier, we have placed two individuals [Schmitt and Glover] on administrative leave. They are in no way being disciplined or punished; it’s simply an administrative procedure, and they’re on full pay and benefits.”
Coinciding with the actions at the Fire Department, says Olson, are changes in the city’s Human Resources manual. Some have claimed that the changes were made in an attempt to alter the appeals process in which Schmitt and Glover would have recourse.
“We have two sets of appeals,” Olson said. “Administrative appeals and disciplinary appeals. There’s been some discussion about the disciplinary appeals process, and a personnel board that existed in the previous version of the HR manual, and has now been removed.”
The report says neither Schmitt nor Glover notified HR of the complaint, a violation of that department’s manual. Olson later overturned the firefighter’s demotion. Hayward says that matter was unrelated to the dismissals.
Other findings in the report: that Schmitt improperly stored about 15 hundred dollars in donations to the child car seat program; and that the evidence did not support Glover's claims that his pay was reduced in retaliation for filing discrimination charges.
Mayor Ashton Hayward says this was likely the toughest decision he’s made since taking office in 2011.
“I have to take into consideration that I have over 100 men and women [at the Fire Department] that are serving the citizens of Pensacola, and we need to make sure that we’re going the right thing,” said Hayward. “A decision was difficult, but the facts supported it. These are tough choices and are bound to have criticism, but it’s my responsibility to make them.”
City Fire Marshal David Allen was named interim Fire Chief just after the suspensions. Hayward’s proposal to remove the “interim” tag goes before the City Council next month.
Matt Schmitt and Joe Glover will receive full retirement benefits. The report in its entirety can be found on the City of Pensacola’s website, http://www.ci.pensacola.fl.us/.